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The Beezus and Ramona of newsletters is shredding the patriarchy, counting our cash, and embracing the trash.
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, big ideas, deeply personal examinations of women’s lives—and none of the advertiser obligations. Welcome to the Spread, where every week two editors read, listen, and watch it all, and deliver only the best to your inbox.
Serious Movie Season is upon us, and not a second too soon. (No shots to Bros, but we can only watch Billy Eichner redefine the rom-com by following the classic rom-com formula to the letter so many times, ya know?) Fall’s slate of festival-approved films includes not one but two movies that the media—you know them!—is calling #MeToo fare. (Well, three if you include Tár, starring Cate Blanchett as composer/conductor Lydia Tár, which we want to see but are going to play like we’ve never heard of right now, because we’re trying to do a bit here, people!) Two movies…about women…sticking it to the patriarchy? Yes, readers, we’ve got a CAT FIGHT on our hands! Which will you choose? There must be a choice, you see, because according to THE RULES OF THE UNIVERSE audiences only have the appetite for one lady-directed, all-star-lady-cast film at a time. So please, consider the contenders carefully! In one corner, we have She Said, with Maria Schrader (the German director of 2020’s Emmy-winning Orthodox) directing Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Samantha Morton, and Rose McGowan’s voice. In the other, Women Talking, with Sarah Polley directing Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Frances McDormand. Meee-owwwww.
Over at Spread HQ, you’d think we were a plotline on GLOW (RIP): The claws are out! Maggie—literally hissing in her conviction—is on team She Said, about the culture-shaking, Pulitzer-winning investigation of Harvey Weinstein. Maggie’s especially looking forward to its depiction of current real-life New York Times employees—including people we write about over here at the Spread on the reg—and excited to see how the actual Times covers a movie about the Times. Meta! And anyway, who doesn’t love a good journalism movie?? Across the ring, Rachel is so convinced that Women Talking—based on Miriam Toews’s book about a group of Mennonite women who realize they’ve been drugged and raped by the men in their colony and begin secretly meeting about what to do—should win the battle, she’s foaming at the mouth while wearing a bonnet! As someone who’s never met (or, actually, not met) a celebrity she couldn’t develop a passionate parasocial connection with, Rachel has felt a special bond with Polley since the director starred as Ramona Quimby in the short-lived 1980s TV adaptation of the Beverly Cleary series. Rachel also read Women Talking in her book club (strong recommend!) so there’s that.
So: Which vagine-forward film with a synonym for “speaking” in its title will prevail?! Vote in the comments!
Whew. OK! Where were we? Elsewhere on the #MeToo front, five years after the great toppling, the Washington Post offers a “where are they now” of sorts on the many men the movement supposedly took down—it sounds a little like homework, but read it anyway: You’ll be amazed how many of these dudes bounced back, and which ones were more or less never heard from again. And there are a few names in there (Morgan goddamn Freeman!) that most of us have forgotten were even accused. Also on the #MeToo front, a small but mighty piece of good news: Last week, a judge cleared the way for Trump to be deposed in the defamation suit being waged by the Spread’s justice-seeking Fairy Godmother, the brilliant E. Jean Carroll, who in 2019 came forward with her story that Trump raped her in the ’90s. Sign up for E. Jean’s newsletter here to follow her fight—and to fix your love life while you’re at it.
Off to write each and every one of your names in our gratitude journal,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Wait, what’s that? Did we hear you mutter that you’re still buying books on—shudder—Amazon? We won’t tell anyone what you’ve been up to, as long as from here on out you’ll instead click buy over at the Spread’s lil Bookshop, where you can purchase all the titles we mention here each week, browse the Spread’s favorite books of all time as well as reading lists of the moment, and help us earn a teeny tiny commission along the way. Bookmark this, baby!
PPS: Last week was our most-read issue ever. Woot woot. But we forgot to remind you to smash that heart button to show us how much you liked it. Womp womp. Please hit it hard this time and help us bring our heart rate back up! Thump-thump thump-thump.
Hear ye, hear ye! Henceforth, the Spread shall be a RHONY fan blog.
Sure, until now your Spreaditors have only indulged in the Housewives when we happen to be in hotel rooms and Lakefront Luxury happens to not be on (a rare occurrence). But yesterday it was announced that Jenna Lyons—former leading lady of J.Crew and therefore star of The Kingdom of Prep, my upcoming book (now available for pre-order here—yes, it’s on Amazon, which we did just try to guilt-trip you about, but Rachel insists that pre-order numbers will more or less determine my entire personal and professional fate, or something like that, NBD, so fuck it, Bezos it is!) will soon join an all-new cast of Real Housewives of New York. Jenna is not the franchise’s first LGBTQ+ castmate, but she’s the first one from NYC and, beyond that, the first legit fashion luminary to get “real” in Andyland (no, Kelly Bensimon does not count) which will make for an interesting social experiment of high and low and is already making for some excellent tweets (peep a few via Diet Prada, above).—Maggie
Maggie, If you can believe it, I have never seen a single episode of the Real Housewives franchise. (If Lakefront Luxury isn’t on in my hotel room, I’m calling it a night.) But thanks to the unparalleled Wesley Morris, whose recent New York Times Magazine essay makes the case that this particular strain of reality TV is our new shared American pastime in the trashy tradition of John Waters and David Lynch and all the movies Jodi Foster made in the ’90s, my pump is primed. In the words of my 16-year-old stepson: Let’s goooooo!—Rachel
Read “American Culture Is Trash Culture” here.
Mostly sex stuff.
Who’s a fan of recent Nobel prize-winner Annie Ernaux (age 82) and/or Sally Rooney (age 31) and/or their many copycats and/or literary sex writing in general? Every person reading this newsletter? Yeah, thought so. Well, then for all of you, Noor Qasim’s new essay in the Drift—which puts what she calls “the millennial sex novel” into the broader tradition of the highbrow bump-and-grind fiction of the past half-century and which has a hell of a lede for her subject matter—will hit the spot. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of erotic thrillers (and I’m not sure if we can be friends if you’re not) the Atlantic’s Shirley Li breathlessly recommends Park Chan-wook’s new film, Decision to Leave, calling it “This Century’s First Great Erotic Thriller”—a genre that got a lot of play when the nothingburger Deep Water came out on Netflix earlier this year, including around here. For what it’s worth: While you wait to see Decision to Leave (which seems to be playing in very few theaters as of now), I recommend biding your time with The Handmaiden, Park’s absolutely bonkers three-part psycho-sexual thriller from 2016, which involves a stolen inheritance and torture by octopus and lots of over-the-top sex, and is now streaming on Amazon Prime. (Hot tip: If its 144-minute running time gives you pause, the three-chapter format makes this one easy to watch limited series-style over a few nights.)—Rachel
Read Qasim’s essay “Controlled” here.
Read Shirley Li’s Decision to Leave review here.
Luckiest Girl in the Hearst Tower.
I interviewed Jessica Knoll for the Cut a few years ago about how she handles money, and have thought of her pretty much daily ever since. Perhaps because the title was, “How to Be a Writer and Still Get Really, Really Rich.” Knoll, as you likely know, is the former mid-tier Cosmo staffer who authored monster-bestseller Luckiest Girl Alive. What has always inspired/galled/bewildered me about her is that she took what we all daydreamed about back when Rachel and I, and Knoll herself, were clocking in at the Hearst Tower in the 2010s, i.e., creating a bestseller in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which had just blown up, and millionairing ourselves into a fabulous new future…and actually did it. Not only is Luckiest Girl Alive a not-half-bad psychological thriller (despite the nonsensical capitalization in the name of of its protagonist, magazine editor TifAni [“Ani”] FaNelli—somebody please explain this to me), but Knoll also promoted it (and herself) with a kind of entrepreneurial zeal that rarely partners with writerly DNA, and proceeded to ink deal after deal, ensuring her own continued rise to the hybrid novelist, creator, screenwriter, and Instagram starlet she is today. And now, bippity, boppity, boo, Luckiest Girl Alive is the number one movie on Netflix, starring Mila Kunis (sidenote: kudos to Kunis, who has nicely settled into her niche as the star of pop-pulp-’tainment). For me, though, it is Knoll herself who is the star of this particular yarn. There’s something about the way she mined the trauma of her own sexual assault—as she discusses in Vanity Fair with with Y.A. thriller-writer Jessica Goodman—to write a book that was intended from the jump to be not just a psychological exercise, but a big BIG hit. That melding of vulnerability and unapologetic ambition (#MeToo meets #Girlboss) is fascinating. Commendable, enviable, and yet…also a little terrifying? Now, Rachel, wouldn’t that story make a good psychological thriller?—Maggie
How do you spell blind spot? C.L.I.T.O.R.I.S.
Yesterday, I texted Maggie a link to Rachel E. Gross’s freshly published New York Times piece, headlined “Half the World Has a Clitoris. Why Don’t Doctors Study It?” Maggie flinched—I could feel it through my iPhone—with her response succinctly answering Gross’s question: “True confession: That word still embarrasses me.” Though time and time again she has rejected my bid to title this newsletter “The Vagina Dialogues” for reasons having to do with dad readers (ours), Maggie is no prude. But because the word for the literal nerve center of female sexual pleasure is so underused in large part due to the fact that—as the article describes—the actual organ is so understudied, it’s one of the few English-language nouns that still packs shock value even for some sophisticated feminists among us. (Hell, I didn’t even know how to pronounce clitoris until Miranda Hobbes declared “What’s the big mystery? It’s my clitoris, not the Sphinx” in season two of Sex and the City, which makes me extra thrilled to soon share with you my dissertation on SATC as Health Class for Old Millennials in a Post-Clinton World!) Gross, whose book Vagina Obscura was published earlier this year, is doing the Lord’s work as a public intellectual focused on women’s health; she paints a harrowing picture of the consequences that we as a culture quietly experience for not staring the word (clitoris!) and the organ (clitoris!) in, uh, the face. One woman recalls a biopsy-gone-awry that left her unlikely to ever recover sensation in that zone again; when she told her doctors that something was wrong, “it was like they did everything but acknowledge the clitoris,” she told Gross. The story does have a hero, a “clitorologist” named Rachel Rubin who has carved out an expertise in the clitoral corner of women’s sexual health (apologies for using carved so close to clitoral. You can unclench now). But the wide-angle view is grim and depressing as hell: Women are literally losing all sexual sensation as a result of botched procedures—in 2022. As a teeny-tiny step, I’m considering naming my next cat Clitoris. Maggie, do you approve?—Rachel
Read “Half the World Has a Clitoris. Why Don’t Doctors Study It?” here.
As a person who is quite attached to her breasts—yeah, literally, har har—what struck me first about Naomi Gordon-Loebl’s essay in Esquire is that, in a 4,000-plus word story written over the course of months as she approached her long-awaited top surgery, she never once refers to what she plans to remove as “breasts.” She also never addresses that refusal. But though there are questions left unanswered in “Saying Goodbye to My Chest,” Gordon-Loebl unearths details of the nonbinary experience that I’d never considered. For instance, the gauntlet that the airport TSA presents to anyone whose gender is ambiguous at first glance. What it’s like to almost never have slept shirtless since puberty, even when in bed with a partner. How attached she feels to the undergarment that she wears to bind her chest. “Is there any object that’s been more consistent in my life than my binder? Nothing, and no one, has been physically closer to me than this vest that’s been pressed against my skin for the majority of the last nineteen years.” I found myself reading through a parental eye. From her grandmother who foots the bill for TSA pre-check, so that Gordon-Loebl doesn’t have to walk that gauntlet any more, to the writer’s father, who tells her, after she announces her plan to have surgery, “I had been wondering… is Naomi just going to wear that vest for the rest of her life?” her family’s total acceptance of her identity, and her new body, reads like a how-to guidebook to acceptance and support.—Maggie
Read “Saying Goodbye to My Chest” here.
Flying too close to the sun, or not close enough?
I have enough unresolved and conflicting feelings about the women’s coworking space the Wing—millennial-pink girlboss-culture incarnate, complete with tasteful bouclé upholstery and healthyish rice bowls—to fill a book, so I’ll try to keep this tight. Fortune’s Paige McGlauflin serves up the latest recounting of the juggernaut chain’s rise and fall, offering a satisfying account of how the numbers worked—or didn’t—in the company’s post-Covid final months. But like so many articles before it, to my overactive olfactory system, her story lets off a whiff of sexism. The Wing organization had some serious problems, chief among them documented instances of racist treatment of both employees and members. But it seems so clear in hindsight that the expectations of Wing founder Audrey Gelman—who somehow appeared to be the shiny-haired company poster girl who loved fashion and counted Lena Dunham as a bridesmaid, and a business visionary, and an operations wunderkind…despite the fact that she had never before run any company, much less one valued in the hundreds of millions—were impossible from the get-go. Moreover, in part due to Gelman’s own grandiose vision and in part because she was a young woman driven by progressive politics, the Wing was not only a business proposition, but a moral one—literally billed as a “women’s utopia.” That’s a mountain I don’t think anyone could scale without significant injury or a little grace, the kind that male founders get all the time. I had a similar feeling reading New York Times critic at large Amanda Hess’s 2020 bombshell takedown of the Wing: That feature pointed to legitimate labor concerns, but also took Gelman to task for alleged sins such as being pissed that there were dirty plates languishing in the “beauty room,” and for telling an employee that, as CEO, Gelman shouldn’t have to be the one to clean up this kind of thing. It struck me as a bananas double standard. Should Gelman be hard-charging or soft? And: Can you imagine a male CEO being expected to bus dirty dishes?!1 No wonder Ms. Audrey is now hiding out in a Brooklyn antiques shop…and you know, in the pages of Vanity Fair. Which reminds me: Maggie, did you ever figure out where we could buy the Wing’s castoff furniture?—Rachel
Readers, if anyone gets a hot tip on a Wing estate sale, send up the Bat Signal!! —Maggie
Read “Why the Wing Shut Down” here.
I feel confident that I could make the case that most of the stories we cover in the Spread are, on some level, abortion stories—so entwined is that issue in every woman’s life. But according to my internal clock, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve highlighted a pure-play abortion read, so please turn your attention to the New Yorker’s latest and greatest in this realm: Stephania Taladrid covers a team of Mexican women who are helping American women get the abortion pills they need. There’s also a half-hour version of the story on the New Yorker Radio Hour.—Rachel
Read “The Post-Roe Abortion Underground” here.
Dance, dance, revolution.
For Essence, Alecia Taylor and Brooklyn White bring us the complete history of Black dance troupes and the HBCU majorettes who created the art form. Pictured here: Alcorn State University’s glittering Golden Girls, which formed in 1968. Revel in the “sass and shimmer” here.
Still in the oven…
In next week’s Spread, we’ll tackle—per the request of a loyal Spreadstan—Meghan Markle’s blockbuster Spotify chat series, Archetypes. Also: Troubadour Margo Price’s new memoir, the (oddly) blandly titled Maybe We’ll Make It. Anything else you’d like to see on our lineup? Comment below or reply to this email. We live to serve.
I feel safe sharing this beef given that I spend most of my free time fangirling over Amanda Hess—as card-carrying members of Spread Nation (and Amanda Hess herself, whom I once bombarded at a mutual friend’s wedding) can vouch.